DIY Wedding Invitations: The Ultimate Money-Saving Guide

It’s no surprise that weddings are expensive. But what might shock you is just how much they actually cost. In 2021, the average couple spent nearly $30k (or $34,000 if you count the engagement ring) on their nuptials, with over $500 of that going toward wedding invitations.

And while some of those costs (notably picking a great venue), might be totally worth adding to the budget. However other expenses, like the fancy bits of gold-embossed paper your guests end up tossing out (or hopefully recycling), are definitely questionable.

So if you’re one of those savvy couples who’d rather save the budget for an epic and cheap honeymoon, keep reading. We’ve got the details on how you can save money on your big day, by getting crafty with your wedding invitations.

DIY Wedding Invitations

When it comes to DIY wedding invitations, there are two basic options to consider.

The first is to purchase a template (more on those below) that you fill in, print and embellish yourself. Alternatively, there are also digital-only templates you can buy and use for e-invites which will save you some money on printing costs and postage.

The other option is to do everything yourself from scratch. This is best for artsy-craftsy types who prefer printed invites rather than digital ones. For this option, you’d be responsible for creating the design, then printing, cutting and packaging the invitations yourself.

Before deciding exactly how DIY you want to go with your invites, do some research and think about how much time you realistically have to put into your invitations. Do you enjoy crafting? Or are you just trying to save a little money?

Once you’re ready to take the plunge, we’ve got several cheap and free wedding invitation templates here to help you get started.

Free & Cheap Wedding Invitation Templates

The easiest option for DIY wedding invitations  is to use digital only or print-it-yourself wedding invitation templates.

They’re plentiful online— and many are even free. You’ll simply add your details, download the template (usually as a PDF) and then email or print the invitations at home or a local copy center.

Wedding templates from Shutterfly.
Shutterfly offers DIY wedding templates.

Here are some of our top places for scoring amazing DIY wedding invite templates:

  • Etsy: Thousands of print-it-yourself wedding invitation templates to choose from, starting at $10.
  • Download & Print: Unlimited access to all of their templates for $25 per year.
  • Greenvelope: Digital-only customizable wedding invites, starting at $39 for 40 guests.
  • Tempoola: Free, downloadable wedding invitation templates that you can customize and print in Microsoft Word.
  • Canva: Customize and download these free wedding templates, then use them as digital invites or print them yourself.
  • Shutterfly: You might have already used them for holiday cards, now check out their wedding invitation templates.
  • Wedding Chicks, Greetings Island and Paper Source: Dozens of free templates to choose from.

For those interested in paper invitations, another option is to simply order a customized wedding stamp with all the pertinent details on it. Rather than printing the invitation, you’ll just stamp the info onto a nice piece of paper.

Want to see what they look like? Here’s an Etsy store that sells partially hand-lettered wedding invitation stamps for $80 and up.

Alexandra Vincent/The Penny Hoarder

Designing Your DIY Wedding Invitations

If you’re a graphic designer or calligraphy artist then you might just want to take your DIY wedding invitations one step further by fully customizing them from scratch.

Do you have beautiful handwriting and an artist’s eye? Consider starting a calligraphy business as a side gig. 

First things first: The words are the most important part, so make sure you get a second pair of eyes to proofread!

Then, to create the basic layout of your invitation, you can use a free trial of Adobe InDesign, Photoshop or Illustrator; a free online program like Canva or PicMonkey; or a word-processing tool like Word or Pages.

Important design elements to consider when you are designing your own wedding invitation include fonts, line spacing, alignment, colors and theme.

When it comes to fonts, you can download them for free at DaFont. Or, you can buy them. Here are several suggested font pairings for DIY wedding invitations.

As a rule of thumb, you shouldn’t mix more than three fonts, and plan on staying consistent throughout the invitation suite (including other inserts like RSVP cards or maps).

Choosing Paper for Your DIY Wedding Invitations

Although it might seem unimportant, don’t skimp on the paper, especially since it can make or break your invitation.

Pro Tip

If you’re printing your invitations at home, buy cardstock that’s at least 65-pound, though 80-pound is even better. 

If you’re printing from home, you’ll also want to make sure your printer can handle whatever cardstock you choose. You can find this information in your printer’s manual, or by searching online for your printer’s “max paper weight.”

Recycled paper is also a popular option — especially for rustic or boho invites. You can order cardstock online at Amazon or specialty shops like Cardstock Warehouse, Michaels, LCI Paper, Paper Source and Paper Presentation. Or you can go to your local Jo-Ann’s, Walmart, or office-supply store. You can also choose different finishes for your paper; for wedding invitations, popular finishes include cotton or linen, which are incredibly beautiful (but also more expensive).

Pro Tip

Don’t forget, you need one invitation per address — not per guest. So don’t make the mistake of ordering double the paper you need! 

This is a screenshot of wedding website templates from Zola.
Websites like Zola offer wedding websites so that your guests can RSVP digitally.

Printing Your DIY Wedding Invitations

Whether you’re using a DIY wedding invitation template or designing the whole thing yourself, you’re going to need to print it somehow.

The most penny-hoarding option? Print your invitations at home. As long as you have a decent printer, and use nice paper, this will probably work just fine.

Both inkjet and laser printers are up to the job; just be sure to select the highest-quality print setting. To save money, use black ink only; if you want a splash of color, use colored paper.

If you’re worried about your wonky printer messing up that expensive paper, outsource the job to a professional print shop. Sure, it will cost you a bit more, but it beats ruining your specialty paper by trying to save money. It also might save you a bit of extra time and frustration, and they can likely cut the invitations for you.

Pro Tip

One of the easiest ways to keep costs down is to keep your paper printings to a minimum, and include a QR code or link to your wedding website. 

Sites like Zola and The Knot offer free wedding website builders which will allow your guests to digitally RSVP, see all the details about your big day, and even contribute to your wedding registry. If you have relatives who don’t use the internet, you can include a small printed card in their invites asking them to RSVP by phone.

Alexandra Vincent/The Penny Hoarder

Making Your DIY Invitations Shine

Once you’ve got them designed and printed, there are countless ways to make your invites shine.

You could add embellishments like:

Don’t Forget the Envelopes

One final way to make your invitations stand out? Killer envelopes.

Envelope liners are a popular option; you can create them with pretty paper, an engagement photo or even fabric.

As for the addresses, you can hire a calligrapher, but that’ll cost you a whopping $2-$5 per envelope. It’s much more affordable to enlist your friends to help you, or to just print pretty labels.

Don’t forget to include your return address, using a label or stamp.

The next step is to visit the post office to weigh your entire invitation and see how much postage it’ll require. (Note: Square envelopes cost more to mail, so unless you’re really attached to that shape, rectangle is a better option.)

As for actual postage stamps, you can purchase custom versions but it’ll cost you more than $1 per stamp.

When it comes time to finally — blissfully!!! — mail out your invites, it’s a good idea to physically take them to the post office.

That way, you can ask the postal worker to hand cancel them (rather than put them through the machine and potentially damage the envelopes). Some post offices will do this for free; others charge up to 20 cents per envelope.

That’s it! You just finished your DIY wedding invitations. Now all that’s left to worry about is the band, the food, the cake, the dress, the honeymoon …

Looking for even more ways to save on your big day? Here’s our list of 90 Savings Tips from Wedding Professionals.

Contributor Larissa Runkle frequently writes on finance, real estate, and lifestyle topics for The Penny Hoarder. Writer Susan Shain contributed to this article. 


9 Easy Ways to Make Extra Money Working Wedding Gigs

Nearly 2 million couples tied the knot in 2021 — but 2022 is projected to be even bigger, with the most weddings since 1984.

That means lots of opportunity to work a side gig helping couples throw their grand affairs.

9 Easy Ways to Make Extra Money Working Wedding Gigs

Here are nine side hustles and weekend gigs to earn some extra cash while love is in the air.

1. Take Engagement Photos

If you’re a shutterbug, this is a great way to build your portfolio and earn extra cash.

Your friends may want to hire a professional photographer for the wedding itself, but they might like to save a little money on their engagement photos.

Be sure to look at professional engagement photos beforehand to get ideas for poses, and then upload the edited shots to a photo-sharing platform so the couple can easily download them and order prints.

If you’re an experienced photographer, you probably already have what it takes to start your own wedding photography business.

2. Address Envelopes

Many couples want the address on their save-the-dates, invitations and thank you cards to be perfect. And many are willing to pay top dollar for perfection: professional calligraphers charge $3 to $4 per envelope!

If you have good penmanship, offer to address envelopes for a fraction of the price.

Even at $1 per envelope, you’ll still earn $100 for a 100-person wedding.

Two people create cupcakes.
Getty Images

3. Bake Desserts

Wedding cakes cost an arm and a leg. If you’re talented in the kitchen, here’s an area where you can definitely profit.

Choose a dessert you excel at making, or one that’s meaningful for the couple.

Cupcakes are an obvious choice — they’re cheaper than a cake, easier to transport and trendy. Bake a few different flavors to please the varying tastes of the guests, and decorate them to wow the crowd.

4. Provide Musical Entertainment

Help make the day special with your musical talent.

If you’re a guitarist, play and sing while the bride walks down the aisle, or during the cocktail hour. If you have a band, get the crowd going at the reception.

Love to sing? Consider working weekends as a wedding singer to earn $400 and up per gig.

Or if you have the gear, spin up a wedding DJ side hustle.

Nick Smith from Southwest Indiana bought his first set of DJ sound equipment when he was 20 years old from a local bar that was closing down.

Sixteen years later, Smith runs his own successful wedding DJ business where he pulls in upwards of $1,000 a gig.

DJing involves some initial upfront costs, like music licensing fees and reliable transportation to move your gear.

But finding work is easy, Smith said. He’s performed at over 200 weddings, most of which came from friend referrals and word of mouth.

5. Create Decorations

Crafty people, rejoice! Weddings provide an abundance of opportunities for you to get your glue gun on.

Everything from centerpieces to place cards to favors is cheaper to make than to buy, so offer to design and execute all decorative needs for the wedding.

Shop at discount stores and buy in bulk to save money on your supplies.

6. Pick Up Catering Gigs

With wedding season in full bloom, now is a great time to find catering side gigs.

From bartenders and cooks, to servers and general kitchen staff, catering gigs run the gamut. Most shifts take place on the weekends and last seven to 10 hours per shift.

Catering staff tend to get paid better than restaurant staff. Expect to earn around $13 to $17 an hour, with some high-end events netting upwards of $25 an hour.

A woman looks happy as she looks in the mirror while getting her hair and makeup done on her wedding day.
Getty Images

7. Do Wedding Makeup and Hair

Every bride wants to look beautiful on her wedding day. That’s why people who do wedding makeup and hair earn big bucks.

If all your friends come to you for beauty advice, this might be the perfect job for you.

Be sure to do a test run a few weeks before the wedding. This gives you and the bride a chance to agree on a style, and helps avoid unwanted surprises on the big day.

If you want to take your bridal makeup business to the next level, get licensed and obtain limited liability insurance.

Make sure to Google the cosmetology laws in your state as well.

8. Love to Sew? Do Alterations

Sewing is a rare skill these days, but if you know your way around a needle and thread, you could earn major money altering clothes — specifically, wedding dresses.

Brides want their dress to fit like a glove — but don’t want to pay the high alteration fees charged at bridal shops.

Market yourself as an independent seamstress who can offer the same quality at a lower price, and you’ll have brides knocking at your door in no time.

9. Be an Officiant

If you aren’t shy around large groups and don’t mind delving into a few state and local laws, becoming a wedding officiant could land you a few hundred dollars per gig.

Becoming ordained is simple. It takes about five minutes and is usually free.

But according to, Alabama, Connecticut, Virginia, Tennessee — and certain parts of Pennsylvania, New York and Las Vegas — don’t recognize online ordinations.

To be certain, you should ask a clerk at your county courthouse. You can also use this interactive map of state licensing requirements from the American Marriage Ministries.

If you want to start performing ceremonies on a regular basis, you will need to set a rate: $75 to $100 is a good starting point for officiants on average.

Rachel Christian is a Certified Educator in Personal Finance and a senior writer for The Penny Hoarder.




This Company Will Pay You $10,000 to Eat Tacos

Love tacos?

Well, have we got the dream position for you.

You can be one company’s next CTO!

No, not the Chief Technology Officer. We’re talking about taking your taco-eating obsession to the next level as Favor’s Chief Taco Officer.

Favor is a Texas-based delivery service that wants to pay “one energetic, hungry and social-savvy Texan $10,000 to track down the best tacos across the state this summer.” The chosen taco guru will travel across Texas and taste test all the tacos (delivered by Favor, naturally) while documenting the experience.

In addition to $10,000 in cash, the Chief Taco Officer will receive food, accommodations, transportation in each city, wellness activities – like massages and yoga classes – plus custom Favor swag and free Favor delivery for a year.

“The history and culture behind one of the most iconic foods in the Lone Star State vary from city to city, and we’re excited for our new Chief Taco Officer to discover some of the best and most authentic tacos out there,” Jag Bath, Favor CEO, said in a press release.

The ideal candidate knows their way around TikTok, Instagram and Twitter, isn’t shy on camera, and is an adventurous eater always willing to try something new. Candidates also need to be Texas residents over 21 years old.

To apply for Favor’s Chief Taco Officer position, you need to:

  1. Create a 60 second or less video explaining why you should be the Chief Taco Officer and what makes you excited about the job.
  2. Post the video to your TikTok or Instagram Reel. Your account needs to be public, plus you need to tag @Favor and use the #FavorDreamJob hashtag.
  3. Fill out the application on Favor’s website and include the video link.

After that, just sit back and dream about your possible taco-filled future. Favor said it will reach out to applicants who are finalists for the position.

Chief Taco Officer duties begin in June 2022 and last through July 31, 2022.

Robert Bruce is a senior writer for The Penny Hoarder.




A Guide to the VA Home Loan for 2022

When looking for a way to fund the dream of home ownership, many men and women who served or are serving in the United States military look into VA loans.

The Department of Veterans Affairs — formerly the Veterans Administration — loan program is for service members, veterans and eligible surviving spouses to help them become homeowners.

“We’re looking for the VA home loan to be the program of choice for veterans,” said Terry Rouch, assistant director for loan policy and valuation with the Department of Veterans Affairs. “This is what we consider one of the major benefits for their military service.”

While many of the terms are favorable, in some cases, a VA loan might not always be the best option for those who are eligible, so it is important to understand how a VA loan compares to a conventional loan and how and when they can be used.

What Is a VA Loan?

A VA loan is a mortgage loan for qualifying military personnel, veterans and surviving spouses administered through the Department of Veteran Affairs. The loans are made through private lenders but backed by the federal government. Among the benefits are lower interest rates and often no down payment.

The main benefits of a VA loan are:

  • No down payment in many cases.
  • Often lower interest rates than conventional mortgages.
  • Limited closing costs.
  • No need for PMI (private mortgage insurance).
  • No penalty for prepayments or paying off the loan early.

“In the past year, we guaranteed more loans than we’ve ever done in the entire history of the program,” Rouch said. “We had 1.44 million loans in the fiscal year of 2021.”

Rouch said the fact PMI is never required with a VA loan is a huge benefit. Conventional lenders often require PMI if the buyer is making less than a 20% down payment.

Michael Anderson, a mortgage loan officer with Charter West Bank in the Omaha, Nebraska, area, said using the VA home loan program increases buying power.

“Say you wanted to keep your payment at $1,500. If you have PMI, you’re going to be able to buy less of a home because you need to add in that PMI portion,” Anderson said.

About 40% of Anderson’s clients are currently serving or have served since the area is home to Offutt Air Force Base. Anderson said he has worked at other banks where more than 90% of his clients were using VA loans.

Realities of a VA Loan in a Hot Housing Market

It’s no secret the real estate market is hot across the country. Prices are increasing and the time that homes are on the market is decreasing. In many cases, there are multiple offers. More and more, cash offers rule and those seeking loans are aced out.

There are misunderstandings about the VA loan process which make both buyers and sellers uneasy. One of those misconceptions is that the process takes much longer than a conventional loan.

“It’s really about advocacy at that point,” said Debbie Childs, a real estate agent with the Real Estate Group in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

She often has the loan officer who is working with her clients call the listing agent to vouch for their mutual client.

Childs said to sweeten the deal, she will add a clause saying if the VA appraisal finds anything that needs to be fixed, the buyer will incur the cost.

Sometimes, the seller will pick an offer based on the fastest closing. In this case, cash offers are more attractive because the deal can close quickly.

Childs said most of her VA loans have come through in about 30 to 45 days. According to Fannie Mae, the average closing time for a conventional loan is 47 days.

Sometimes it takes a conversation between the loan officer and listing agent to get a deal done, providing proof the buyer is serious and has the funding in place.

Meeting VA Loan Requirements

Even with a VA loan, the borrower must still meet the lender’s credit and income requirements so borrowing money to buy a home is not a guarantee, but having a VA loan can help make things easier on the borrower.

“It’s difficult in many instances for a veteran or an active duty service member to actually save money simply because they’re limited on the amount of income that they’re earning and they’re constantly being transferred to different duty stations, which makes it hard for families to set up a budget to set aside a down payment,” Rouch, himself a Navy veteran, explained.

A VA loan is only for primary residences and that residence must meet building codes and safety standards, so it’s not possible to use a VA loan for a vacation or investment home or a real fixer upper.

There are also funding fees for VA loans based on a percentage of the loan with rates set by the federal government.

All VA loans have funding fees except if the borrower:

  •  Receives or is eligible to receive compensation for a service-related disability.
  • Received a Purple Heart.
  • Is the surviving spouse of a veteran who died during service or of a service-related disability.

The funding fee is similar to the points conventional lenders charge for a loan.

Who Are VA Loans For?

Contrary to what some might think, VA loans aren’t just for first-time home buyers.

“Many people utilize the VA program one time when they are young and they purchase their first home (using a) VA loan, but they don’t ever go back and use it again,” Rouch said. “We do want people to know this is a lifetime benefit so once they become eligible, they can use that for their entire lives.”

According to the VA website, as of 2020, there is no limit to the amount of a loan if you meet the conditions of having full entitlement, which means you have:

  • Never used the home loan benefit, or
  •  Paid a previous VA loan in full and sold the property, or
  • Used the home loan benefit, but had a foreclosure or short sale and repaid it in full.

If you do not meet the conditions for having a full entitlement, there may be a loan limit, based on where you live.

The limit is based on the county where you live and the Federal Housing Finance Agency has a site to figure it out. Typically, in 2022 it is $647,200 but higher in some areas where it is $970,800.

Rouch said service after the loan is another advantage of using a VA home loan.

“If someone becomes delinquent or has a situation that would create a scenario where they need to do a modification, the VA is very workable with veterans. We want to ensure that they not only get a loan but to maintain that home as well.”

He said they work with loan servicers to make sure veterans are taken care of.

“On that odd chance or that situation that may occur where they become delinquent, they can feel comfortable knowing that the VA has got their back there too and that we’re there to try to help.”

Types of VA Loans

Under the heading of VA loans, there are several different types including purchase loans and cash out refinance loans.

  • Purchase loans: This loan helps veterans purchase a primary residence at a competitive interest rate without PMI and often without a down payment.
  • Cash out refinance loans. With this loan, owners can take cash out of a home’s equity to pay for things like home improvements or school, or to pay off debt.

The other types of VA loans are:

  •  Native American Direct Loan:  For Native Americans or people married to Native American veterans who can help finance the purchase, construction, or improvement of homes on Federal Trust Land.
  •  Interest Rate Reduction Refinance Loan: These are for borrowers who have an existing VA backed loan who want to reduce monthly payments or make their payments more stable. These are also known VA streamline refinance loans.
  • Adaptive Housing Grants: These loans are for veterans with permanent and total service-connected disability to help them purchase or build an adaptive home or to modify an existing home.
A female veteran picks up her child as she enters her home.
Getty Images

Who Is Eligible for a VA Loan?

In general, to be eligible for a VA loan, you must have served in the military for a specified length of time or be the surviving spouse of someone who died on active duty or from a service-related disability or the spouse of someone being held as a prisoner of war.

General length of service requirements are:

  • 181 days of active duty during peacetime.
  • 90 consecutive days during wartime.
  • More than six years of service with the National Guard or Reserves or 90 days under Title 32 active duty status with at least 30 days being consecutive.

The VA website section on eligibility requirements has more specifics depending on when you served, if you are an officer or a retired officer, and the times that constitute wartime or peacetime.

Character of service matters, so no other than honorable discharge is allowed so no dishonorable discharge or bad conduct.

To get a VA loan, you must have a valid Certificate of Eligibility (COE) to show you have satisfied the service requirements and duty status.

The application process is online as part of a benefits information site from the VA and the Department of Defense. Make sure to have any documents handy that you may need to prove your eligibility.

Even if you meet the service and duty status requirements, it is not a guarantee that you will receive a VA loan. You must still meet credit, income, and other requirements your lender might have.

How to Buy a House With a VA Loan

In many ways, buying a home with a VA loan is the same as buying a house with any other type of loan.

As you would with any loan, you need to find out how much of a mortgage you qualify for, but there’s one additional first step.

“I like to go out and get [a client’s] certificate of eligibility first from the VA portal just to make sure they’re eligible and then from that point, it’s just an application just like everyone else,” Anderson explained. “I’m going to document their credit, get their assets and other information.”

Not all lenders handle VA loans. According to the VA, there are more than 1,500 lenders that offer VA loans.

To find a VA loan lender in your area, Anderson recommended asking your real estate agent or talking to other veterans in your area or the area where you’re moving. In fact, you might want to look for a Realtor who has experience working with the military community and understand the specific needs and challenges.

Once you know how much you prequalify for, you can start looking at homes in your price range.

“It’s a challenging market and each pricing point is different and each neighborhood is different, so you really need a realtor guiding you,” said Childs, the Virginia Beach real estate agent. “When I’m representing a VA client, I first remind the listing agent that the VA buyer’s skin in the game is their service to our country because sometimes (they ask) where is their skin in the game? Where is their money down?”

The prequalification can also help agents and home sellers know you are serious about buying their home.

Appraisal and Underwriting

Once you find the home you want and put in an offer, there are a few more steps you must take with a VA loan including appraisal and underwriting.

“When I’m working with buyers, I try to get them through initial underwriting before they look at houses. That does really help a buyer to get all their paperwork in and processed so when I have my loan officer call the listing agent, I can say they are through initial underwriting already,” Childs said.

The VA appraisal for a loan is not the same as a home inspection or a traditional home appraisal. It must be done by a VA-certified appraiser, which can take up to two weeks depending on the market.

The VA appraisal is more stringent than appraisals for traditional loans and is done to make sure the property meets the minimum property requirements like working plumbing and functioning electrical systems and that it meets fair market value.

“The VA does do almost a secondary home inspection,” Childs explained, but said the reports often come back with just a few minor repairs.

Closing Costs

The closing costs are the fees the borrower pays to the lender, and with VA loans, they are different than with traditional mortgage loans.

With VA loans, lenders cannot charge the borrower prepayment penalties, attorney fees or settlement charges.

Lender can charge:

  • Origination fee: The lender can charge this fee, but there are limits about how much they can charge.
  • VA funding fee: This is a charge that is only for VA loans. It is a one-time fee that goes to the VA as a way to help pay for the program to continue. The fee varies based on the price of the home and if the borrower has a down payment.
  • VA appraisal fee. This fee varies from state to state and they were raised in 2021 to meet high demand. The fee can be $450 to more than $1,000 (parts of California and Alaska). The appraisal determines the market value of the home and ensures that it meets Department of Veteran Affairs requirements. 

If you don’t want to pay the closing costs up front, you can roll some of them into the mortgage amount, including the VA funding fee.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About VA Loans

We found the answers to some of the mostly commonly asked questions about VA loans.

Is There a Minimum Credit Score to Qualify for a VA Loan?

The VA does not set a minimum credit score, however lenders may require a credit score above a certain threshold to have a loan with their company. Your real estate agent should be able to steer you to a lender that can work with whatever credit score you have. Or help you understand ways to bring it up if necessary.

What is the Minimum Income for a VA Loan?

The VA does not set a minimum income for a loan, however borrowers still need to meet income and other standards from the lending institutions.

How Does a Home Qualify for a VA Loan?

The home must pass a VA appraisal in order for the buyer to use a VA loan. The VA appraisal makes sure the property meets the minimum property requirements like working plumbing and functioning electrical systems and that it meets fair market value.

Is There a Limit to the Amount you can borrow With a VA Loan?

There is no loan limit if the borrower meets basic eligibility criteria of service time and character of discharge. That assumes the borrower has a full loan benefit entitlement. The lender might set an amount the borrower qualifies for based on income, credit, and other criteria.

Who Qualifies for a VA Loan?

There are basic eligibility criteria of service time and character of discharge. General length of service requirements are: 181 days if served active duty during peacetime; 90 consecutive days during wartime; more than six years of service with National Guard or Reserves or 90 days under Title 32 active duty status with at least 30 days being consecutive. Surviving spouses can also be eligible in certain situations.

What can Disqualify You From a VA Loan?

Service members and veterans must meet discharge and military service obligations. A less than honorable discharge may disqualify someone from obtaining a VA loan as they could not meet time of service requirements.

Is it Easy to Get Approved for a VA home Loan?

Approval for a VA loan is not necessarily any easier or more difficult than approval for a conventional loan. The main differences are neither a down payment nor PMI (Private mortgage insurance) are required parts of VA loans.

Can I be Denied a VA Loan?

Eligibility for a VA loan does not always mean loan approval. Lenders might have other risk criteria they apply to loans that are in addition to VA requirements and guidelines.

Tiffani Sherman is a Florida-based freelance reporter with more than 25 years of experience writing about finance, health, travel and other topics.




How to Negotiate Medical Bills: A Step-by-Step Guide

The hospital bill arrives in the mail, and you’re tempted to throw it away (again) without opening it. After all, you don’t have the money to pay for that trip you took to the emergency room.

Ignoring medical bills isn’t going to make them go away, and the longer you wait — much like the cough that turned into pneumonia — the worse it’s going to get. But there is some good news: You can negotiate medical bills so that you pay a fraction of the amount you were charged.

It’s probably of small comfort, but you’re not the only one facing steep medical costs. In 2019, a quarter of adults skipped medical care, such as a visit to a doctor or dentist, because they couldn’t afford it, according to a Federal Reserve 2020 report. And 18% of those respondents had unpaid medical debt of their own or from a family member.

Those expenses aren’t limited to the uninsured — with co-pays and deductibles reaching four-figures, even people with insurance can face medical bills they can’t afford.

Craig Antico and Robert Goff, authors of the book “End Medical Debt: Curing America’s $1 Trillion Unpayable Healthcare Debt,” spoke with The Penny Hoarder about how to negotiate medical bills you can’t afford and how to pay them off before they do more harm to your finances.

How to Negotiate Medical Bills That You Can’t Afford

As hard as it may be to believe, healthcare institutions aren’t out to intimidate you and take all your money. At least, not in the beginning. And almost all of them will accept less than the full amount owed.

“If you say something up front, you can generally work out an arrangement at a lower rate,” Goff said. “If you don’t, then the full maximum amount is pursued — and it’s pursued aggressively.”

As many as 80% of medical bills contain errors, so you should make correcting billing errors your first priority. Then follow these step-by-step strategies.

1. Stop Procrastinating

First of all, you need to open the envelope. Seriously. We understand that it’s easy to get overwhelmed after a medical crisis, but the clock is already working against you.

Even if you walked out of the hospital without speaking to someone about your financial situation, you still have a window of time during which you can plead your case, according to Antico, co-founder of the national charity R.I.P Medical Debt.

“They’ve got about three or four months to talk to the hospital,” he said. “As soon as they get a bill from the hospital, a light has to go on that I must read this bill, as hard as it’s going to be.”

First, understand if this is a bill from your health provider or health insurance company. Health insurance companies may send scary-looking statements that indicate how much they paid and how much is still owed, but that amount is not necessarily how much you have to pay.

It’s best to reach out to your healthcare provider and ask them how much you still owe. You can also request an itemized bill. If you still don’t understand what you’re looking at, make them explain each charge in detail — you have the right to demand to know what you’re paying for.

2. Ask for Help (the Earlier the Better)

You’ll have a greater chance of obtaining financial assistance if you ask earlier rather than later — especially if you’re already struggling financially. If you owe a hospital money, check its website for its financial assistance policy to find out if you qualify for a discount or charity care.

Pro Tip

If you make less than the federal poverty level, ask your hospital about its charity care program, which covers the cost of healthcare for low-income patients.

“They can switch a bill from being billed to charity care within the first 90 days,” Antico said. “Even if you make more than two to three times the poverty level, they’ll give you a discount.”

3. Calculate What You Can Afford

Setting a goal to pay off medical bills rather than avoiding them is the best way to help your financial situation long-term.

But when facing a bill — or pile of bills — that seems insurmountable, it’s easy to panic and whip out your credit card to make it all go away. That’s a big mistake, since there are alternatives to handling medical debt that don’t involve the double-digit interest rates that credit cards charge.

Instead, plan your payoff in a responsible way by determining how much you can afford to pay.

“There’s a rule of thumb that I have: Only pay about 3% of your gross income toward these bills,” said Antico, who added that if you live with your parents rent-free or don’t have a car payment or insurance, you can bump up that amount to as much as 15%.

Your gross pay is your pre-tax and pre-deduction income. It includes your regular hourly or salaried pay plus any overtime.

Medical debt doesn’t accrue interest, so making hefty payments beyond your means can leave you in more dire circumstances than if you paid off other debts you owe — like those pesky credit card balances. If you don’t have one already, it’s a better idea to put at least some of that money toward starting an emergency fund.

However, deciding how much your budget can handle is essential before you call your medical provider.

4. Talk to Your Provider (or Debt Collector)

Most medical providers are willing to work with a patient who can’t afford their services — even after the services have been rendered.

So once you’ve reviewed your bill and know how much you can afford to pay, it’s time to call your provider. Typically, you’ll need to speak to an office manager at the doctor’s office or the billing department at a hospital.

Pro Tip

Even if you have multiple medical bills, avoid the temptation of a consolidation loan for the convenience of a single payment. Remember: Medical debt usually doesn’t accrue interest, but a loan will.

Speaking with a human being is the best way to present your case, whether it’s explaining you didn’t pay because the bill got lost in a move or proposing that you pay a portion of the bill in cash to have the rest of the debt forgiven.

After all, it’s in the provider’s financial interest to talk to you rather than turning over your bill to collections and potentially losing even more money.

Even if you’ve heard from a debt collection agency, there is still hope to negotiate with the provider. The collection agency at that point is working on behalf of the provider, who may be willing to make a deal with you.

“I would start by going back to the originating provider — not dealing with the bill collector,” Goff said. “If the provider can’t or won’t negotiate, then ask the bill collector if you can settle the bill for a lesser amount.”

Two people set up a payment plan.
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5. Set Up a Payment Plan

If you’re not in a position to make a huge cash outlay to erase your medical debt, ask your provider about potential payment plan options.

Working directly with the provider to arrange a payment schedule is definitely in your best, ahem, interest.

“If you make a payment plan with a hospital, they don’t charge you interest — you just pay the principal amount that you owe the next two, three, four, five years,” Antico said. “And they’ll take almost any payment plan that someone wants to pay.”

In exchange for reliably getting paid on time, your provider might also agree to a further discount if you offer to put your installments on automatic payments.

6. Learn From Your Mistakes

Just because you’re in debt doesn’t mean it always has to be that way. You can learn from your mistakes and not put yourself further in debt.

Before your next trip to a medical provider, find out if you qualify for Medicaid or charity care — up to one-third of U.S. residents qualify for charity care, according to Antico.

If you do have health insurance, understanding your health benefit plan is essential to preventing unwanted surprises. That includes finding out what services you might not realize are covered.

“We’re actually seeing people avoid going for preventative services, although it’s not even subject to even a copay or a deductible,” Goff said. “You’re losing out on the benefit, including an opportunity to avoid greater illness.”

More than anything, both Goff and Antico stressed that early action can make the difference between paying off medical bills and sinking into financial ruin.

“When a patient doesn’t pay attention and goes anywhere, does anything, and then wakes up to, ‘Oh my god, I have all these bills and they’re not going to be covered,’ they’re already behind the eight ball,” Goff said. “If you’re going to run into an economic problem, say something early to your physician.”

After all, it’s easier to feel better when you have the remedy for your financial health, too.

Tiffany Wendeln Connors is a staff writer/editor at The Penny Hoarder. Read her bio and other work here, then catch her on Twitter @TiffanyWendeln.




Live Q&A Wednesday: Ask Dear Penny Anything About Retirement

Hey, Penny Hoarders! Do you have questions about retirement?

As in, can I afford to retire? When should I collect Social Security? Will Social Security even be around for me? Am I saving enough in my 401(k)? Can we retire if we still have debt?

I’m Dear Penny, The Penny Hoarder’s resident advice columnist and a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™. Every week, I get scores of questions from readers who want to know whether their retirement plans are on track.

If you’ve got questions about retirement and investing, join me for a live Q&A Wednesday, April 27-Friday, April 29 in The Penny Hoarder’s Community. Beginning at noon ET on Wednesday, I’ll take questions from readers like you about how to prepare for this huge financial milestone.

If you’re not a member of The Penny Hoarder Community, be sure to register today. You’ll connect with others who are passionate about making smart decisions with money. It’s a place to ask questions, share your wins and offer encouragement.

I look forward to your questions and learning from you, as well. Please join us for a lively discussion!

Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. Send your tricky money questions to [email protected]




26 Uses for Salt Around the House

Salt is one of those staples you always have in the kitchen. But don’t limit its use to just flavoring food. It’s a true household workhorse and we’ve found more than two dozen hacks beyond the usual culinary uses.

Salt makes food taste better, but it’s also great for cleaning because of its absorbent qualities. You can use salt around your home for all sorts of cleanup jobs or incorporate it in your self-care routine. Salt scrub, anyone?

Skip the expensive cleaners and grab your salt shaker. We’ve gathered 26 different uses for salt that might surprise you.

What Type of Salt Should You Use?

When you think of salt, you probably think of fine-grain table salt, but you might occasionally need sea salt, kosher salt or Epsom salt for these hacks.

Iodized table salt is the cheapest option — 26 ounces of Walmart’s Great Value store brand is just $.48 — and the most likely one to be in your cabinet. The finer grains make it a great option for many jobs.

Sea salt and kosher salt have larger-grain sizes than table salt. You’ll pay more for kosher salt (about $3 for 3 pounds at Walmart) and sea salt (about the same price for 26 ounces at Walmart). But if you need more abrasion for the task, the price is still cheaper than specialized cleaning products.

Epsom salt isn’t actually salt at all, but magnesium sulfate. You can find it in the pharmacy or beauty section for less than $5 for a 4-pound bag.

26 Uses for Salt Beyond Food

We’ve rounded up ways to use salt as a cleaning agent, as a beauty and health aid, and a few other surprising uses.

Using Salt as a Cleaning Agent

1. Scrub your cutting board.

Is your cutting board looking a little worse for wear? Use salt and a lemon to get rid of stains from last night’s dinner. Wipe your cutting board with a damp cloth, then sprinkle coarse salt liberally all over it. Slice the lemon in half and use it to scrub the salt into the board. Let it sit for a few minutes, then rinse it all off. Remove any excess moisture with a cloth and stand it up to dry.

2. Clean your fridge.

Salt can also be used to clean your fridge. Dissolve a cup of salt into a gallon of hot water to give it a quick clean. You can also use the other half of that lemon to give the water a pleasant scent.

3. Freshen up your sponges.

Has your kitchen sponge seen better days? Put ¼ cup of salt in two cups of water and let the sponge soak in the solution overnight to clean it.

4. Clean a glass coffee pot.

You can clean old coffee stains off your coffee pot with 4 tsp salt, 1 cup of crushed ice and 1 tablespoon of water. Make sure your coffee pot is at room temperature and mix everything together. Swirl it around until the pot is clean, then rinse.

5. Clean coffee and tea stains from mugs.

Once your coffee pot is clean, why not clean out your mugs? Get the inside of the mug wet, add 1 tablespoon of salt and scrub it around with a microfiber cloth. Rinse the mug out with water.

6. Make a new broom last longer.

Before you use a broom for the first time, soak it in a solution of one part salt to one part vinegar. Leave it in for 30 minutes and then stand it upside down to dry. This will prevent the broom bristles from fraying.

7. Erase spots off wooden tables.

Do you have water rings left on your table? Combine salt with a small amount of water to form a paste. Use a cloth or sponge to rub the paste into the stain until it’s gone.

8. Remove wine stains from clothes and carpets.

Blot the stain to remove what liquid you can, then sprinkle kosher salt on the stain. Allow the salt to sit for two or three minutes, then rinse with cold water. If using the salt method on a carpet, you can simply vacuum it up afterward.

9. Keep your brass bright.

Restore the shine to your brass and copper items with salt. Combine 1 tsp of salt and 1 tbsp of flour with enough vinegar to form a paste. Rub the brass or copper vigorously on to brass or copper and allow it to dry. Wash the item in warm soapy water and dry with a microfiber cloth.

10. Clean up your old change.

Do you have dingy old pennies in your change jar? Mix ¼ cup of vinegar and 1 tsp of salt in a shallow bowl. Soak the pennies for 15 minutes, making sure they aren’t touching. Use a toothbrush to remove any stubborn residue, then rinse the pennies in water and lay them on a cloth to dry.

Only do this hack if you’re not concerned about coin collecting. The abrasive effect of salt can lower a coin’s value.

11. Brighten the colors of rugs and curtains.

Revitalize old rugs by rubbing them with a cloth that has been soaked in salt water. Smaller throw rugs, curtains and clothes can be soaked in salt water before being put in the washer to brighten their colors. Short on time? Throw some salt in with the wash cycle.

12. Clean your clothing iron.

Give your iron a quick clean by putting sea salt on a piece of paper, then running the warm iron over it a few times. The dirt will stick to the salt. Allow it to cool, then wipe the salt off the metal plate with a damp cloth.

13. Deodorize your sneakers.

Salt can take the smell out of your stinky shoes. Just sprinkle some table salt into the offending pair, let them sit overnight and it will absorb any moisture. Don’t want to put salt directly into your shoes? You can also put the salt into two coffee filters, tie them off with rubber bands and place them in your shoes instead.

A woman applies a salt face mask.
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Salt for Self-Care

14. Make your own skin exfoliant.

You can use sea salt, kosher salt, Epsom salt or any other salt in your cabinet to create an invigorating body scrub. Mix the salt with an oil, such as coconut or olive. You can also customize the body scrub by adding essential oils, honey or coffee grounds. Hop in the shower and use your homemade salt scrub to exfoliate your damp skin.

Only use salt scrubs on your body. The coarser grains aren’t good for delicate skin, so use sugar if you want to make a face scrub.

15. Treat dandruff.

If you have a case of dandruff, don’t run to the store for an expensive remedy. Add a tablespoon of salt to your regular dollop of shampoo to exfoliate your scalp. Massage your scalp and shampoo as normal.

Have some Epsom salt handy? Get your hair wet and massage the Epsom salt into your scalp. Follow up with your regular shampoo and conditioner.

16. Take a sea salt bath.

If you don’t have the time to make a body scrub, just throw some sea salt into your bath. It can help relieve skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema, and ease muscle aches.

Make sure the water temperature is only about two degrees warmer than your skin to help your body absorb the nutrients. Pour in ¼ cup of salt and relax in the tub for 20 minutes. If ¼ cup doesn’t feel like enough, you can experiment with up to 2 cups of salt.

17. Relieve bee and mosquito stings.

If you get stung by a bee, reach for the Epsom salt. It reduces swelling and can help expel any stinger pieces that have been left behind. If you’re bitten by a mosquito, a paste made from water and table salt will help soothe the affected area.

18. Relieve a sore throat.

Gargling salt water can help with your sore throat and allergy symptoms. Mix ½ tsp of salt with 8 ounces of warm water and gargle for as long as you prefer. Repeat as often as needed. Salt water rinses can also help alleviate canker sores and improve dental health.

Salt for Pets

19. Get rid of fleas.

If your home is experiencing a flea infestation, you can fight them with finely ground table salt. You can grind the salt into a powder using a blender. Sprinkle it on your carpet, furniture or pet bed and allow it to sit undisturbed for 12 to 48 hours. Brush the salt into the fabrics so it gets down into the fibers where flea eggs can hide. Once the waiting period is over, vacuum it up. The salt will dry the fleas out and kill them.

Just be sure to not allow your pets around the salted area. Salt can be harmful if ingested and can irritate their skin.

Salt for Outdoor Use

20. Kill weeds in your sidewalk cracks.

If you have weeds poking through your sidewalk or patio stones, you can use salt water to kill them. If other plants are around the weeds, use a weak mixture of 3 parts water to 1 part table salt. If the weeds are by themselves or the quality of the soil isn’t an issue, you can make a stronger solution. Use a spray bottle to apply the saltwater to the weed’s leaves.

Need a stronger solution? Add dish soap and white vinegar to make it more effective. Repeat every few days.

21. Kill Poison Ivy

If you found some poison ivy while tackling your weeds, salt can take care of that too. Mix 3 cups of salt, ¼ cup of dish soap and 2 cups of hot water. Spray it on the plant every few days until it dies.

22. Remove rust.

Are your garden tools looking a little rusty? Rub salt over the rusted area, then squeeze lemon juice onto the salt. Let sit for two hours and then scrub the mixture off.

Salt sits in a small brown wooden bowl.
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Salt for Other Household Solutions

23. Keep fruit from browning.

You can sneak some apple or pear slices into lunch boxes and they won’t brown if you soak them in salt water after cutting them. Use ½ teaspoon per one cup of water and soak the fruit for five minutes, drain and store.

24. Test eggs for freshness.

We’ve all been there — sometimes eggs don’t get used by the “best by” date. You can test the freshness of your eggs by placing them in cold saltwater. If the egg is still usable, it will sink to the bottom. Eggs that have gone bad will float.

25. Make cut flowers last longer.

Make that bouquet last longer by putting 1 tbsp of Epsom salt in its water. Epsom salt contains magnesium, which helps plants absorb nutrients.

26. Put out a grease fire.

If you happen to accidentally start a grease fire, liberally douse it with salt. Aim directly above the fire so the flames don’t leap out. You can also use it on your outdoor bonfire to help snuff out the embers.

Contributor Jenna Limbach writes on financial literacy and lifestyle topics for The Penny Hoarder from her home base in Utah.